In the previous two articles I explored how to see what to change and then determine whether that is open to change or not. Why? Because you can’t change what you can’t see and you cannot change what is not open to change. In this article I will be exploring how to choose precisely what to change, because then you can focus your efforts. This is important, because two of the biggest challenges I see people facing every day within intercultural business contexts are overwhelm and confusion.
Feeling overwhelmed is a symptom of believing that you have to change everything at once. Instead, it’s better to choose only a few things to focus on. Later, you can make other choices. By focusing your attention on less, you can make progress faster. Furthermore, you will feel satisfied because you will begin to see tangible results sooner.
Coupled with overwhelm is confusion. The direction to take is unclear, so you wait for it to become clearer or for others to provide clarity. In fact, clarity comes when you make a choice. For example, one of my French clients had been recently promoted to work on a project that required him to communicate with people from a variety of cultures and professions. As a result, his unique communication style, which had worked so well for him in the past when communicating with others in the same culture and profession, was now no longer as effective.
In our first session together it was obvious that he was experiencing overwhelm and confusion. He really didn’t know where to begin or what exactly to do. He had a vague notion that improving his English would help. But not only was that not the solution for him, it was actually contributing to his sense of overwhelm and lack of clarity. He had set himself an unclear and unreachable objective: “I want to speak English as well as I speak French.” Good luck with that! Speaking a second language always requires us to adapt how we communicate. That’s a fact of life that everyone within an intercultural context has to accept. What is not commonly understood is that everyone can learn to improve how they communicate.
I worked with him on communicating his opinions more clearly and concisely. At the end of the ten sessions his response was, “I am much more effective and confident expressing my opinions in English, thanks to you.”
I am not surprised by that kind of feedback, because there is so much vocabulary and so many verb tenses — how can you ever master them all? From my perspective, once a client has achieved an upper-intermediate level of using English as a foreign language, learning how to more effectively use the vocabulary and grammar they already know is a better use of his or her time. You can do that, too, by focusing your attention on mastering how you use speech acts more effectively.
How you make requests, offers, promises, declarations, and express opinions and facts, makes up your unique communication style. This adds up to a total package that operates automatically. The good news is that you don’t need to choose to change all of it; your best approach is to focus your efforts on a single speech act at a time. Choose one from the following list and begin today.
On the speaking side, you can choose to change:
How you make requests.
How you make offers.
How you make promises.
How you make declarations.
How you express opinions and facts.
On the listening side, you can choose to change:
Not listening for the intention behind the words.
Ignoring tone and body language.
Listening for other people’s concerns.
Building intercultural trust.
The list is relatively short, in fact, when you focus on the building blocks of all human communication. I have linked some items in the list to places on my site where you can learn more about what you can do specifically to practice improving.
Because ultimately the first three steps of the process of change, which I have covered in this and the previous two articles, are only the warm-up for the fourth step — practicing. While that seems obvious, you should ask yourself, why don’t you practice communicating better more often? Check that out in the next article.